Cattle raiding

Cattle raiding is the act of stealing cattle. In Australia, such stealing is often referred to as duffing, and the perpetrator as a duffer.[1][2] In North America, especially in the Wild West cowboy culture, cattle theft is dubbed rustling, while an individual who engages in it is a rustler.[3]


The act of cattle-raiding is quite ancient, first attested over seven thousand years ago,[4] and is one the oldest-known aspects of Proto-Indo-European culture, being seen in inscriptions on artifacts such as the Norse Golden Horns of Gallehus[5] and in works such as the Old Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley"), the paṇis of the Rigveda, the Mahabharata cattle raids and cattle rescues;[6] and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, who steals the cattle of Apollo. The theft of livestock are practiced in many pastoral cultures and are often paired with myths of the abduction of women (compare Helen of Troy, Saranyu, Sita, and The Rape of the Sabine Women)..


Cattle-raiding was a big problem for many centuries in the areas both sides of the border between England and Scotland. Under James VI and I, many of the clans were banished to County Fermanagh in Ireland. Most of those banished later became members of the Church of Ireland, having previously been nominally Catholic, and this led to a religious divide in County Fermanagh that is different from other parts of Northern Ireland, where the Presbyterian Church is the main Protestant domination.[7]

American Old West

In the American frontier, rustling was considered a serious offense and in some cases resulted in vigilantes hanging or shooting the thieves.[8]

One cause of tensions between Mexico and the United States in the years leading up to the Mexican–American War (of 1846-1848) was the frequent raiding of cattle by Native Americans from north of the border. Mexico's military and diplomatic capabilities had declined after it attained independence which left the northern half of the country vulnerable to the Apache, Comanche, and Navajo. These tribes, especially the Comanche, took advantage of Mexico's weakness by undertaking large-scale raids hundreds of miles deep into the country to steal livestock for their own use and to supply an expanding market in Texas and the United States. These raids left thousands of people dead and devastated northern Mexico. When American troops entered northern Mexico in 1846 they found a demoralized people and little resistance from the civilian population.

Mexican rustlers were a major issue during the American Civil War (1861-1865); the Mexican government was accused of supporting the habit. American rustlers also stole Mexican cattle from across the border. Failure to brand new calves facilitated theft.

Conflict over alleged rustling was a major issue in the Johnson County War of 1892 in Wyoming.

The transition from open range to fenced grazing gradually reduced the practice of rustling in North America. In the 20th century, so called "suburban rustling" became more common, with rustlers anesthetizing cattle and taking them directly to auction. This often takes place at night, posing problems for law enforcement, because on very large ranches it can take several days for the loss of cattle to be noticed and reported. Convictions are rare to nonexistent.

East Africa

The Pokot and Samburu Nilotic populations in northwestern Kenya often raid each other for cattle.[9] Violent cattle rustling has caused massive loss of lives such as the Monday 12 March 2001 raid among the Marakwet in Murkutwo Location, Elgeyo Marakwet County, suspected to have been caused by the Pokot.[10]

Cattle rustling is a major problem in rural areas of South Sudan. In the state of Jonglei, cattle raids in August 2011 left around 600 people dead. Once again in January 2012, ethnic clashes related to cattle theft killed between 2,000 and 3,000 people and displaced as many as 34,500 in the area around Pibor.[11]

West Africa

Cattle rustling is common in Nigeria.[12][13][14]


Cattle raiding became a major issue at the end of the 19th century in Argentina, where cattle stolen during malones were taken through Camino de los chilenos across the Andes to Chile, where they were exchanged for alcoholic beverages and firearms. Several indigenous groups and outlaws, such as the Boroano and Ranquel peoples, and the Pincheira brothers, ravaged the southern frontier of Argentina in search of cattle. To prevent the cattle raiding, the Argentine government built a system of trenches called Zanja de Alsina in the 1870s. Most cattle raids ended after the military campaigns of the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, and the following partition of Patagonia established by the Boundary Treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina.


The theft of sheep, goats and cows along with tractors and irrigation equipment, is one of the most difficult problems confronted by farmers in Israel. About 400 cases are reported annually in the north of the country, and in the south, farmers compare the situation to the Wild West. They suffer millions of shekels in annual losses.[15] Most of the stolen livestock is taken to the West Bank, quickly slaughtered and then smuggled back into Israel, where it is sold by butchers to unsuspecting customers.[16]

See also


  1. Baker, Sidney John (1945) The Australian language : an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia Angus and Robertson, Ltd., Sydney, page 32, OCLC 186257552
  2. Derricourt, William (1899) Old Convict Days (2nd ed.) T.F. Unwin, London, p. 103 OCLC 5990998
  3. "rustler". Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  4. "The Perfect Gift: Prehistoric Massacres". Perfect Irish Gifts (The twin vices of women and cattle in prehistoric Europe). Archived from the original on 2008-06-11.
  5. Bruce Lincoln, The Indo-European Cattle-Raiding Myth, History of Religions (1976), p. 58.
  6. "Episode 46 - The Cattle Raid : Lawrence Manzo : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  7. "'Sheep stealers from the north of England': the Riding Clans in Ulster by Robert Bell", History Ireland
  8. "Cattle Rustling". Old Meade County.
  9. "31 killed in Laikipia cattle raid". Daily Nation. September 15, 2009.
  10. Kenya Human Rights Commission, Raiding Democracy: The Slaughter of the Marakwet in Kerio Valley, Nairobi: Kenya Human Rights Commission.
  11. "South Sudan horror at deadly cattle vendetta". BBC News.
  12. "Cows, Bandits, and Violent Conflicts: Understanding Cattle Rustling in Northern Nigeria | Olaniyan | Africa Spectrum".
  13. "Cattle rustlers kill 23 people in northern Nigeria | World news | The Guardian".
  14. "Between Manslaugtering and cattle rustling: The tales of Fulani herdsmen and rural banditry in Nigeria | Calabar Reporters".
  15. Israeli farmers face off against master goat thieves
  16. Taking livestock: NIS 5m in beasts rustled last year

Further reading

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